There’s an old saying that reminds us that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Whoever first came up with that phrase was talking about your average enterprise IT environment whether they realized it or not.
In a relatively short amount of time, the cloud has come along to completely change the way we think about information technology – inarguably for the better. These days, we’re more collaborative, communicative and ultimately productive than ever before. It’s a genie that absolutely nobody wants to put back in its proverbial bottle… but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t brought a new era of challenges along with it.
Because cloud environments are as vast as they are flexible, we’re now dealing with more potential vulnerabilities than ever before. This isn’t something so bad it outweighs the benefits of the cloud, nor is it an idea exclusive to the cloud in the first place. In a lot of ways, we’re still facing the same basic challenges we ever were – they’ve just evolved right along with the technology itself.
Nevertheless, if you truly want to make sure that your users, your clients and your business stays protected in the digital age, there are a few key things that you’ll want to implement as a part of your own IT environment vulnerability health check as soon as you possibly can.
Your IT Environment Vulnerability Health Check: Breaking Things Down
By far, one of the most important things you need to account for in terms of your own IT environment vulnerability health check has to do with instances of excessive access. All of the other security measures that you implement ultimately won’t mean a thing if people have unrestricted access to more data than they actually need to do their jobs.
This isn’t a problem inherent in the cloud, mind you – this is true with any type of system that you may be dealing with. Instances of excessive user access (also sometimes referred to as “super users”) can come about from a number of different things, including but not limited to manual network security practices, incomplete information in security policies, and more. Regardless, it creates a disturbing lack of accountability – and one that could leave your organization vulnerable at the worst possible moment.
In an effort to get ahead of this type of problem as soon as you can, consider the following steps:
- Perform a full access rights audit of every user working within your organization. Not only do you need to know WHO has access to WHAT information, but you also must determine WHY.
- If any instances of excessive access are identified, remove them as quickly as possible. As an aside, this would also be an excellent opportunity to remove inactive users as well.
- Implement a series of real-time alerts and access blocking via a file integrity monitoring solution. If someone tries to access something that they shouldn’t, you need to know WHY so that you can properly address it.
- Consider implementing system-level applications wherever possible. This can be a great way to mitigate risk from any destructive behavior, should it in fact occur.
- Create and enforce a password protection policy that requires users to select unique passwords and change them, at a minimum, every 30-45 days.
- Implement multi-factor authentication protocols and procedures.
Along the same lines, address the physical access of information by way of a more thorough approach to workstation security. Not only should workstations always lock after a certain period of inactivity, but they should become locked after a series of incorrect password attempts as well. This is an efficient way to block the access of a third party or an insider with some type of rogue intentions from the data contained on those devices.
If you have to A) issue an employee a workstation with sensitive data that they B) need to take home with them in order to do their job, this is okay. However, implement some type of file integrity monitoring solution to stop security threats at the workstation level and always utilize strong encryption across the board.
Test Early, Test Often
Another major component to maintaining the health of your IT environment comes down to your ability to identify and patch application vulnerabilities. Note that you don’t necessarily have to wait for an original developer to release their own patch (though that is important too, as is covered below). If you experience some type of issue, close the gap on your end so that a small problem doesn’t become worse in the future.
The three key elements of comprehensive security testing to this end include things like:
Black box testing.
This is when you test WITHOUT the particular knowledge of an application’s functional knowledge of your system in an attempt to “simulate” a hacker attack.
White box testing.
This is when you test an application’s internal functions to ultimately determine what level of code security you’re dealing with.
This is when you provide invalid or extreme data inputs to an application to determine its thresholds. You’re not only trying to find out what might cause it to crash – you’re also trying to determine what conditions can result in a data leak, as well.
Regardless of what types of vulnerabilities are discovered, make a note of them and patch them as soon as you possibly can.
The Most Often Overlooked Vulnerabilities
Finally, you’ll want to go back through your environment and make sure that you’re properly accounting for a number of critical factors that many businesses often overlook. All of these issues may seem “small” on the surface. But never forget that all it takes is one attacker – or rogue insider – who knows what they’re doing to exploit these vulnerabilities for all they’re worth. Nearly anything can become a backdoor path into your IT environment in “the wrong hands” and if you want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you, you’ll need to account for things like:
Not only does your operating system need to be updated as often as possible, but the same should be true of all software running on it. Patches and updates do more than just improve performance and add features – they also “close” certain vulnerabilities that can easily be exploited by someone who knows what they’re doing.
Not only should you change and test for weak passwords on a regular basis, but you should also verify that NO software or hardware assets are using their original default passwords, either. Along the same lines, consider implementing some type of “intruder lockout” after a certain number of failed login attempts have taken place to further increase security.
Don’t forget about mobile devices.
Never forget that ANY device connected to your network is a potential exploit. When you consider that many of your employees are likely bringing smart phones, tablets, unencrypted laptops and other mobile devices to work and are connecting them to your infrastructure, suddenly the number of potential vulnerabilities you need to worry about multiplies exponentially. For the best results, make mandatory data encryption an organic part of your security policy and ENFORCE that security policy as much as possible.
Likewise, remember USB flash drives.
Not only are USB flash drives one of the most common ways that a network can get infected from behind a firewall, but it’s also an easy way for someone to make off with critical business data. To combat this, you must have clear security policies regarding USB flash drives (and other types of portable storage). Define who can use them, what they can be used for, and outline the steps you’re taking to prevent unauthorized access to data by encrypting information as soon as it is stored.
Outer Edge Technology: Your IT Professionals Service Partner
At Outer Edge Technology, we understand how important your IT environment is to your long-term success as a business. When properly aligned with your long-term goals, technology won’t just make it easier to meet your needs today – it’ll also help guarantee that you’re prepared for the challenges that tomorrow might hold, regardless of what they happen to be.
We’ve been helping organizations exactly like yours design, build and manage their technology solutions and data centers for many years – and that includes IT environment vulnerability health checks, too. There are certain challenges that are inherent to the cloud, yes – but the same is true of literally any type of technology. The important thing is taking steps to mitigate those challenges as much as possible, which is exactly what we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping you do.
If you’d like to find out more about how to conduct the best and most accurate IT environment vulnerability health check that you can, or if you’d like to learn a little more about the advantages you’ll receive as a result of our IT consulting services, please don’t delay – contact us today at 844-OET-EDGE. Likewise, you can also fill out the contact form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.